More generators mean long lines at gas stations during Tropical Storm Isaias outages

If you’re seeing long lines at gas stations — don’t panic.

The reason, in large part, is because people are filling up containers to power their generators, said Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline Convenience Automotive Association.

“The lines are being caused because there’s people that are lining up to fill up their 5-gallon cans for their generators, and that takes a lot of time. It’s not just like stick it in the car,” he said. “There are more people today with generators than ever before.”

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Some 1.4 million people are without power in New Jersey after Tropical Storm Isaias swept through the region Tuesday afternoon, and it could take days to restore it, as trees are cleared and power lines repaired, Gov. Phil Murphy said at a press conference Wednesday.

Some lines of cars at gas stations, according to reports, have extended half a mile, which Risalvato said is because it takes much longer to fill gasoline storage cans than cars.

While reports from motorists have surfaced about seeing local gas stations without the lights on, Risalvato said he has not heard about an “overwhelming” number of those, adding that the ones that are out of power seem to be in the southern end of the state.

Lad Bell, on the other hand, was driving on a quarter of a tank trying to find gas along Route 23 near his home in Riverdale, but no such luck.

“Every station from here toward West Milford was shut down,” Bell said, adding that the service centers were either coned off or taped off. “It wasn’t until I got to Rockaway that I was able to fill up with ease.”

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Service centers on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway did not experience an interruption because of the storm. Four stations — three on the turnpike, one on the parkway — are operating on backup power from generators, said New Jersey Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney.

After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, a push was made by state legislators to require gas stations to have backup generators because of the long lines and gas shortage people experienced throughout the state.

But that was a bad idea that Risalvato and others helped stop, he said, because forcing those small businesses to pay for generators that can cost around $100,000 would not have averted the problem.

“We started out with hundreds of gas stations that were out of power but had gas in the ground,” he said. “Then, over a two- to three-day period all of them had power but then no gas” because of issues with distribution.

Over the years, some of his member businesses have paid for generators and sought grants to offset the costs through a state program to incentivize gas stations to invest in generators.

This series of outages, Risalvato said, “shouldn’t be as bad, and, of course, a lot already had their power turned on this morning.”

Mehmet Can, manager of a Lukoil station in Rutherford, said it doesn’t have a generator, and didn’t lose power this year or have any other issues from Tropical Storm Isaias.

“I guess we got lucky this time,” he said.

Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering the region’s transportation systems and how they affect your commute, please subscribe or activate your digital account today

Email: cwilson2@lohud.com Twitter: @colleenallreds